The Forever Fountain

Terry Gillespie and Jamaican Musicians
Terry Gillespie and Some Jamaican Friends

Let’s take some time to overview the development and evolution of modern music  as an example of a long and very fruitful system development:

  • The invention of radio and recording allowed many separate culturally embedded musical threads to be experienced by musicians and children/teenagers.
  • Musicians became comfortable meshing snippets of different traditions and children/teenagers became comfortable listening to same.
  • Incredibly cheap and universally wide-spread music distribution through radio allowed the emergence of rock and roll and Elvis Presley as a national cultural institution
  • The Beatles took this institution globally
  • The dramatic drop in the cost of creating and producing high-quality music lead to an explosion of, and reintegration of, a boatload of musical styles (second level integration).

Try to think of what could replace this existing worldwide system of musical experience. It would be like trying to replace a community’s primary language.

So… A cultural dynamic of immense scope and power is playing out in your target’s environment. How can you possibly make use of this to impact your target?
Align your change efforts with the natural dynamic of this larger cultural force.

The Forever Fountain: Generative Ecologies

A generative ecology is a network that continues to create novelty over a long period of time in a self-sustaining manner. That’s why I refer to them as “Forever Fountains”. Such an ecology continues to create newness without a director or a controlling force. The entire evolution of life on earth is the most long-standing and productive generative ecology and the one within which all our other Forever Fountains arise.

The popular music ecology is one with which we are all familiar, and it demonstrates the independence of the ecological creation process from changes in technology, musicians, audiences, geography, culture, distribution methods, or anything else that is ordinarily considered important in the production of products, services, supports, events, or whatever.

A generative ecology represents a more or less constantly evolving force in our environment. We can either align our change efforts with that force, or against that force, but we can’t avoid it.

One of the most basic strategic decisions we can make is this one.

At any given time, there are a variety of generative ecologies operating in the change target’s environment. Whether we intend to or not, when we act to change a target, we are aligning and opposing all the relevant generative ecologies that affect the target system (and us as well). Better to decide how we want to integrate those ecologies than to stumble across them as we try to implement our change plan.

One ecology of critical and expanding importance in our change plans is social networking (SN). Because SN is becoming a part of more and more people’s lives across the globe, a SN strategy must be part of most of our change plans. Since the people we affect with our change plan will, in all likelihood, be using SN, we don’t have the option of “excluding” SN from our strategy. It will become part of our strategy whether we like it or not. Again, better to get good at it.

Since SN technology, reach, software, and basic importance in most lives is constantly expanding and changing, we must invest time and energy in understanding and using SN if we expect to competently include it in our change plans.

Next Post: An Advocate’s Guide to System Thinking, Part 1

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Change Strategy: Making Our Lives Larger by Norm DeLisle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



Bird flying so fast, it's wings are blurred

Bird Flying Faster

You are flying a jet fighter in the air enjoying the speed and the view. Suddenly you are attacked by another jet!  You need OODA!

You must make your decisions faster than your target using the OODA loop:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act


  • Public Relations war with a large target system
  • Building momentum for change in a community

The OODA loop was developed by a fighter pilot named John Boyd who tried to understand why some pilots always seemed to win their dogfights. He discovered that the good pilots made good decisions faster than the poor pilots. They weren’t faster physically, though. In Boyd’s terms, they cycled through decisions about what to do next faster than the other pilots. They went through the OODA loop faster. This is as true of successful organizations and movements as it is of dogfights.

OBSERVE: Observing the environment of change is more than just perceiving it. It is focused scanning based on the framework that organizes your change initiative. You are not scanning for anything in particular but are trying to note anything that impacts your change effort.

ORIENT: For my purposes a better term would be “interpret”, but OODA Loop rolls off the tongue. We assign meaning to what we scan based on our experience in general, this target in particular, the importance we give to our change effort – in other words, all the meaning we bring to bear on the purpose of our effort.

DECIDE: We make a choice about how we will respond to the meaning we have experienced. This decision is never the result of a careful and patient review of every possibility we might try. We don’t have time for that. It is more like the pattern recognition that drives our behavior when we see that we are about to have an automobile accident. Pattern recognition is developed through experience, successes, and failures, and is a far faster brain process than deliberative conscious decision-making.

ACT: Then, we act to change the dynamic of our advocacy situation. We respond to what we have learned in this cycle of the loop. Then we Observe to see how our action has changed the dynamic. We cycle through OODA again.

The best use of the OODA Loop is to undermine the target’s decision-making process by making your decisions before the target can make theirs. This is referred to as “getting inside” the decision loop of the target. Successfully doing this disrupts target decision-making and dramatically increases anxiety, which further disrupts target decision-making .

My experience with the OODA Loop in advocacy is that people have difficulty accepting the metaphor as valid in the context of advocating for rights. The process of change in disability rights seems to be viewed as linear and deliberative. Part of this is the way that (for example) the civil rights movement flowed out over time. We reflect on that movement as a series of specific marker events, like the Greensboro sit-ins in 1960 or the MLK Mall speech in 1963, minus all the chaos and quick thinking that actually underlies any significant progress in rights.

One of the lessons of the OODA loop is that change dynamics aren’t linear. An example of failing to understand this is the common advocacy approach of filing a complaint and waiting for a response. This is a tactical failure that costs our change efforts energy and impact and reflects a misunderstanding of the effective use of the OODA loop. A better approach is to multiply the ways of questioning the target’s status quo.

In the early 1980’s, ADD was not viewed as a real disability, and arguing for it as a qualifying disability under special education rules was an arduous task. Basically, advocates had to argue that a student with ADD qualified under POHI (Physically or Otherwise Health Impaired), a category used to qualify students who had physical or medical conditions that undermined their ability to benefit from education. Evidence for such qualification was viewed as entirely medical, requiring medical assessments (say neurological or neuropsychological). Because such assessments were not typical education assessments, there was a lot of game playing about whether schools would pay for such assessments, adding further complexity.

Advocates began to use Section 504 instead of special education rules, requiring schools to provide accommodations to individuals with ADD whether the student qualified under special education or not. The Section 504 accommodations strategy had the additional benefits of not allowing the school to use special education funds to pay for the accommodations and much greater simplicity in its use as an advocacy tool. When such an approach was used, districts tended to offer special education far more easily.

Also, disturbing a target through multiple pathways undermines the very common reality that targets get used to a disturbance if you keep using it over and over. They develop automatic ways of responding to that kind of disturbance. If you combine typical disturbances with rare ones, you increase the anxiety in the target about the unknown level of risk they face. Of course, this requires more effort and a more sophisticated response to whatever it is that the target does.

As part of effective use of the OODA Loop, we also need to become more adept at using social media (more in a later post).

We need to use our smallness, flexibility, and speed more effectively.  Instead of bureaucracies having size and implacability as advantages, we need to begin to make those traits disadvantages by enthusiastic use of the OODA Loop.

Next Post: The Forever Fountain

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Change Strategy: Making Our Lives Larger by Norm DeLisle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Bricolage and Jazz, Oh My!

miles davis, gutarist and drummer

Miles Davis

Bricolage is a French loanword that means the process of improvisation in a human endeavor. The word is derived from the French verb bricoler (“to tinker”), with the English term DIY (“Do-it-yourself”) being the closest equivalent of the contemporary French usage. In both languages, bricolage also denotes any works or products of DIY endeavors.”

One of the myths of modernity is that anything can be accomplished through the mechanical use of some technique. This is reasonably true for complicated systems like building an airplane (though even there, good design requires more than just the steps necessary to build), but it is not true for complex systems such as advocacy in which both advocate and target are evolving during their change relationship. In particular, no matter how well planned a change initiative is, like the proverbial military strategy, it will only last as long as the first response from the target.

To deal with this reality, we have to embrace improvisation. Jazz is improvisation with music, and bricolage is the art of solving problems with whatever happens to be sitting around. You can think of jazz as a collaborative sound art, with bricolage being its craft-like brother from another mother.

In the US, this is often referred to as tinkering and has become a staple of DIY media channels. You have a problem sitting at your feet. Or dumped in your lap. You need to do something about it now with what is immediately available, or you don’t have the time or money to use a prefabricated one.

Tinkering is what we all do when we aren’t happy with the solution we are presented with or forced to use.

  • Personal Modification of the “NEW” software system at work that will “solve all your problems”. This is so common, that it is assumed it will happen when new software is introduced.
  • Continuous Process of Personal Micro Self-Determination Expansion. This is a fancy way of saying that our second by second personal growth/change is more a process of bricolage than it is a procedure. Vygotsky said that we use objects in our environment to mediate our development from one stage of meaning to another. Development as bricolage or tinkering. Probably not jazz.

A change target presents as an opportunity for tinkering. We fiddle with it to understand it and to make more effective change efforts. We also learn from tinkering. There is a whole philosophy of mind called “embodiment” using our ability to tinker and actively frame our “tinkerings” as ways of understanding the world.

Tinker through your interactions with the target. Systems continue to think that they can devise perfect solutions for us (current policy, current practice, status quo), and they go to great lengths to impose those solutions on us, to make us invoke the solutions and live with the limits of the way they were designed. And as advocates we keep twiddling the dials, looking for gaps, trying out change techniques that the designers didn’t think of.

Tinkering is always a valuable thing to do, even when you believe that tinkering will not produce the change you want. Tinkering will teach you about the imposed solution and the system that imposed it, about its strengths and weaknesses, about the things the designers didn’t take into account.

People who must use any solution regularly have been tinkering with it and know a great deal about how it can be subverted. Talk to those people. Work to get them to open up about what they have learned in their quest to make the solution suit their needs.

A Great Book about these issues is The Labyrinths of Information: Challenging the Wisdom of Systems, though it has become much more expensive over the years.

Next Post: Faster

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Change Strategy: Making Our Lives Larger by Norm DeLisle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License